According to the recent National Audit Office report on academies, the Government spent £8.3bn on academies in the two years to April 2012, which took the Department for Education (DfE) £1bn over budget.
This has led to £350m being cut from other education services, including £95m from the school improvement programme and £105m being taken from contingency reserves.
However, the DfE says that it makes “no apology” for the number of schools that have been choosing to convert to academy status and no apology for spending money on a programme that is proven to drive up standards and make long-term school improvements.
In fact, the Department says that it wants as many schools as possible to take advantage of the significant benefits that academy status brings, because it means more and more schools run by “great heads and teachers, not local authority or Whitehall bureaucrats”, which in turn means more children getting a first-class education.
Since 2010, the number of academies has soared from 203 to 2309, a rise of 1,037 per cent and now nearly half of all secondary schools and five per cent of primary schools are academies, while during this time, spending on the academes programme has gone up from five cent of the total schools’ budget to 15 per cent.
Academies have greater financial freedoms than maintained schools and the Department’s approach to approving applications, coupled with the fact that most converters to date have been outstanding and good schools, appears so far to have managed the risk of schools converting with underlying performance issues.
However, more schools with lower Ofsted ratings are now applying to the programme, so future applicants may require more in-depth assessment and support to manage the potential risks.
The Department relies on the quality of academies’ financial management and governance to safeguard effective use of public money and, to date, there have only been a handful of investigations into financial mismanagement and governance failure in them.
As an accountant, Gill Freeman specialises within academy finances and charity tax.